Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They, too, counted for something ....

"Now when the darkness was coming on rapidly, when lights were twinkling below, and when it seemed as though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyss, Lipa and her mother, who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the end, giving up to others everything except their frightened, gentle souls may have fancied for a minute perhaps that in that vast, mysterious world, among the endless series of lives, they, too, counted for something, and they, too, were superior to someone; they liked sitting here at the top, they smiled happily and forgot that they must go down below again all the same."
Anton Chekhov, The Ravine

Friday, June 25, 2010

En Pau

"In Barcelona he had had his first experience of being a wonder-figure, of that pleasing flattering veil which, if it grows too thick, can cut a man off from the refreshment of contact with ordinary life and which can cruelly distort his relationship with others, even with those nearest to him in blood. Few people speak to a wonder as if he were a man, which is disagreeable no doubt and impoverishing; but how much more painful when he finds that he is a wonder even in his own home, worse still when he is living on the other side of an invisible barrier -- a wonder that can be exploited, and therefore by definition an outsider. If that were to happen to a suspicious mind every word, gesture, or kindness would come to have an ulterior motive. At some point, unspecified in time, but certainly after Barcelona, he said to Gertrude Stein, "You know, your family, everybody, if you are a genius and unsuccessful, everybody treats you as a genius, but when you come to be successful, when you commence to earn money, when you are really successful, then your family and everybody no longer treats you as a genius, they treat you like a man who has become successful.""

-- from that wonderful and brilliant book
Picasso A Biography,
by Patrick O'Brian

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing Is FUN?

Very few writers believe this, and yet it is quite a common conception among people who don't write, and especially among those who don't even read for pleasure. Why else would anyone do it -- if not to make money? or "have fun?"

Into this conversation we ought to insert one or two of Roland Barthes' little ideas that he set down in The Pleasure of the Text. Not that these ideas will do most non-writers any good whatsoever.

Shall we call them "civilians" ... in the War of Words?

One of Barthes' main ideas seems to be that the pleasure of the text -- of the "dream of reading" -- resembles the pleasure of the species-specific human bonding and imprinting interaction, which coincidentally happens "at the reading distance" between two pairs of eyes. Perhaps I have interpolated this idea from Desmond Morris's book The Naked Ape?

The eyes, they make an 8 shape -- lying on its side. A symbol of infinity.

The Pleasure of the Text is a brilliant short book full of luminously paradoxical and counter-intuitive insights. But in describing the pleasure of the text as an intense experience which can be recognized only as one "wakes up" from it, does Barthes give adequate consideration to he startling implication that "pleasure of writing" -- of creating a text? ... must be even more intense than the pleasure of simply reading a text? that the pleasure of creating a text that makes the world "disappear" for the reader is necessarily a jouissance even more intense for the writer.

But fun?

Not that I mean to imply that the pleasure of the text is one of life's simple pleasures. More likely it is astoundingly complex and intensely erotic. Yet another term we should investigate. But alas, my copy of the great anthology Les Chefs d'Oeuvres de l'Erotisme was jettisoned -- with all my other books, many of them irreplaceable -- by that illiterate rascal, the "painter" -- The Strathmore Stripe-ist Shane Guffogg. While he was divorcing my half-sister Martha Gehman.

Other more or less unreplaceable books in the jettisoned-by-Shane-Guffogg category included

My copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer ...
All my father's books but Gary Cooper...
About twenty of my stepfather Lowell Bair's translations, including Liaisons Dangereuses, The Three Musketeers, and the Bantam dual-language edition of Candide ... along with a manuscript for Delgado's A Tikipan Coule le Rio Chongo ...
Signed copies of two dozen books published by personal friends over the last 30 years ...
My copies of the Tolkien game role-playing manuals I wrote for Irown Crown Enterprises ... The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales...
My almost antique (from the Sixties) two-volume Gourmet and many other cookbooks ... my small Revere ware chili pot.  My three inch butcher block cutting board.
My Abrams Art book about the Woodstock painter Fletcher Martin.
My book of the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly that I got at the Guggenheim show in New York.
The truly irreplaceable last remaining copies of my first two novels, "Upstream to Die" and "Croatan" ...
My science fiction collection containing almost all of Jack Vance and Heinlein ... among other writers.

Total  replacement cost  -- somewhat less than the $3,000 dollars that Shane Guffogg, The Strathmore Stripe-ist owed me at the time and still does owe me for work done around the Courtyard that he never paid for, although he did collect money for the work done from the Courtyard's owner Ed Ruscha.

The Strathmore Stripe-ist!
Because after all, "a stripe is a stripe is a stripe."
Will he ever be more than just another Wall Batterton?  However, Wall Batterton is, after all, not only a better than average painter in his own right, he is also a teacher of painting -- in addition to being a "Friend of Ed."

Of course there are a great many painters in Los Angeles who  who won't rise much above the level of those set decorators whose work has always been so popular with interior design consultants; and most of them probably believe that Roland Barthes is (a) unintelligible or (b) a glibly gibbering  idiotic Francophone "theorist" -- who never wrote a screenplay.  So I say ....

Baja Hollywood Forever!

Why People Don't Write?

Why people don't write has always interested me -- not least because I often don't write myself. Could it be as simple as Simone Weil's notion that "To be free and sovereign as a thinking being for an hour or two a day, and a slave the rest of the time, is such a torment to the soul that, to avoid the pain, most people will renounce the higher forms of thought."

Of course most people aren't interested in much more than the next very satisfying but bad cheeseburger movie anyway.

But we have all known people ... indeed, we have all known some very talented people ... who either judged (perhaps correctly) that they lacked enough of the talent they would need, or lacked the courage and drive that would enable them to make something of the talent they actually had.

But I always think it is a pity they just didn't try.

On the other hand, I probably would have made more money by sitting still holding my breath than I have ever made by writing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"To make you see ..."

He was before all things the artist and his chief message to mankind is set at the head of this chapter ... "It is above all things to make you see. ..." Seeing is believing for all the doubters of this planet, from Thomas to the end: if you can make humanity see the very few simple things upon which this temporal world rests you will make mankind believe such eternal truths as are universal . . .

That message, that above all things, the province of the written art is above all things to make you see, was given before we met; it was because the same belief was previously and so profoundly held by the writer [by FMF] that we could work for so long together. We had the same aims and we had all the time the same aims. Our attributes were no doubt different. The writer knew more about words but Conrad had certainly an infinitely greater hold over the architectonics of the novel, over the way a story should be built up so that its interest progresses and grows up to the last word.
-- Joseph Conrad: A Personal Memoir, by Ford Madox Ford
Although not precisely on the same level of "visual brilliance" as Fifth Queen, for the writer (and especially for a writer who has ever loved Conrad), this is a very valuable -- and brilliant -- book.

I first ran across a reference to this memoir in the same book by Geoff Bocca that led me to Kinglake's History of the Crimean War (Down to the Death of Lord Raglan) -- a book that not only "taught Churchill to write" (and by which -- according to Bocca -- an intelligent man could not fail immediately to be fascinated, no matter to which page he might  open any of the eight or nine volumes) but that also will greatly enhance any intelligent person's understanding of that vast and eternally troublesome area of Asian hinterland we like to call "The Middle East."